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Born For Adventure Hardcover – April 15, 2007
The Amazon Book Review
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Tom Ormsby yearns to leave London for a life of adventure. Opportunity comes when he joins Henry Morton Stanley on an 1887 expedition to Africa. Disillusionment gradually sets in, however, during this bizarre journey, which is partly a military campaign and mostly an exercise in self-promotion by the egomaniacal Stanley. Throughout the years of his trek, Tom is nearly killed by wild animals and jungle diseases, befriends the Pygmies, and witnesses the repeated cruelties to the native people. He ends the expedition far wiser in the ways of imperialist adventurers. Karr never lets her exhaustive research get in the way of her ripping good yarn, narrated in Tom's fast-moving and occasionally humorous voice. The incidents Tom describes often relate to the current problems in many parts of Africa, and this well-crafted story offers a view of history that will be unfamiliar to most young readers. Todd Morning
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
About the Author
Kathleen Karr surprises her readers each time she finishes a book, as no two are alike. Whether she’s writing about a 15-year-old boy settling in the Carolina Colony in 1670 (Worlds Apart) or the U.S. Camel Corps from the viewpoint of a camel in 1856 (Exiled), she engages and exhilarates her readers. Born for Adventure was inspired by a trip to Africa, during which Kathleen canoed the Zambezi, managing to steer clear of the jaws of crocs and hippos. It gave her a yen for the Congo. Fortunately, rediscovering the history of the ill-fated "Relief of Emin Pasha Expedition" filled that need.
Her book, The 7th Knot, won the 2003 Agatha Award for Best Children’s/Young Adult Novel, and her titles have been selected for the American Library Association’s recommended bibliographies, Notable Books for Children and Best Books for Young Adults. She and her husband, the parents of two grown children, live in a restored town house in Washington, D.C.
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Top Customer Reviews
Although the novel starts out strong, I found my attention flagging once the crew reached the Congo. The reason was the style that Tom used to record his findings: more like a journalist than a young boy coming of age on a once-in-a-lifetime expedition. Again and again, we are treated to a factual account of how many men desert or are murdered, and how many supplies are left. Life threatening risks (a tree falling on a character, an animal attack, etc.) are resolved just a paragraph later, decreasing drama. I also questioned the political correctness of the protagonist which at times seemed unrealistic for someone of his time and era, even though they seem self-evident to someone living in 2013. Even the most compassionate person of that time still grew up with some attitudes that seem reprehensible nowadays. But I did learn a lot about this period in Great Britain's history with Africa exploration. Overall, the book succeeds as interesting and informative non-fiction, even when it fails as a true, edge-of-your-seat adventure story.
My sense is that it's a kind of combination of Young Indiana Jones, Clive Cussler, and Tintin, grounded in the real-life setting of Stanley's expedition. It seemed to be rollicking good-old-fashioned adventure but with certain contemporary attitudes built in. My son certainly enjoyed reading this book, and as he tends to be picky about what he reads, this should be taken as an endorsement.
Tom, of course, is your typical older teen in that he thinks he's much wiser, kinder, smarter and accomplished than he actually is. However, Tom does have skills that come in handy during the expedition to first find Emin Pasha (a German emigré who's oddly in charge of a specific part of Africa due to both Pasha's own wishes and the then-current political situation), most particularly a flexibility of mind as Tom can seemingly turn his hand to just about anything.
Giving someone like Tom this many skills -- Tom can serve meals with aplomb like a trusted servant, helps the doctor to the point that the doctor is willing to write a letter of reference for him in case Tom's willing to become a doctor in turn, etc. -- could've backfired badly, but Ms. Karr handles her hero brilliantly. You see, Tom, like the African men he often oversees, has very little power in the current hierarchy. No matter how many skills he has (and as already stated, he has many), he's always seen as a servant by Stanley and Stanley's officers (save the doctor, who's ego is apparently more flexible than most). And because of this, he can empathize far better with the men he often oversees.
Many questions are raised during "Born for Adventure," including the following:
Is it right for one country to impose its own standards on another?
How can anyone believe that Queen Victoria and her advisors, so far away and with little direct knowledge of the situation "on the ground," can understand anything of what's going on in her African colonies?
Would some of the tribes have resorted to cannibalism if they'd been left alone, or even if they'd been treated with some modicum of respect?
And, finally, is it right for people who've been born to a higher station to automatically assume that they're morally superior in every way, shape, or form?
While some of how Tom acts is a bit anachronistic for the time period, Ms. Karr gives good reasons for why Tom behaves the way he does. Tom's inner monologue is excellent, the story structure is good, and the actual adventures that Tom and the others go through -- all historically documented (though Tom himself is the author's conceit) -- are hair-raising in and of themselves.
In other words, "Born for Adventure" is a story that works on every level. It's an excellent "coming of age" story for Tom. It's an excellent action-adventure. It's strong, historically speaking, and the events being discussed are both well-rendered and true to life. The characters are appealing when they're supposed to be (Tom and the Doctor), appalling when they're supposed to be (Stanley in particular does not come off well), and surprisingly likable when they're supposed to be (the Pygmies).
Recommended heartily for young adults on up who are up for a good historical yarn with "all the right stuff."